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Family abuse during COVID-19

How has the pandemic increased the risk of abuse towards elderly people and towards parents by their children?

Unplanned learning

This article was correct at time of publishing (July 9). To keep up with the latest information please visit our coronavirus hub

Life during coronavirus has put relationships under pressure, especially for those whose living arrangements have changed. Many families have had to spend time in closer quarters under the challenging conditions imposed by lockdown. For some, this has included new daily arrangements of working from home and home schooling, while others who have been furloughed or made redundant are dealing with the stress and worries that entails.

Social distancing has also meant that those who usually have extra help from carers, cleaners or nannies have had to forego their services and take on those tasks themselves, where they can.

For those who are victims of domestic abuse, this environment has made their situation riskier than ever. Domestic abuse charities have warned that the pressure of lockdown and fears about coronavirus has escalated abuse, as well as restricting access to support services for victims.(1)

Domestic abuse is not limited to physical abuse. It can also include psychological or sexual abuse and controlling, threatening and coercive behaviour.(2) While women are most commonly thought of as the victims of domestic abuse, they are not the only ones at risk.

Elder abuse

Hourglass – a UK charity focused on the abuse and neglect of older people – says lockdown and the rising household tension that can be associated with it has put the nation’s older population at greater risk of abuse.(3)

Worryingly, their research of UK residents found more than 1 in 3 (34%) did not consider acts of domestic violence against an older person to be abuse and almost half (49%) felt that ‘not attending to an older person’s needs in a timely fashion’ did not count as abuse.(4)

Child-to-parent violence

Another under-reported form of domestic abuse is that of parents by their children – known as adolescent-to-parent violence and abuse (APVA) or child-to-parent violence (CPV).(1,5)

In April, the victims' commissioner for England and Wales, Dame Vera Baird, warned parliament’s Justice Committee about increasing reports of abuse of parents by their older children, which she said could be triggered by teenagers wanting to go out during lockdown and not being allowed to.(6)

While it is normal for young people to experience anger and frustration as they move into adulthood, this should not be an excuse for violence. CPV is used to threaten and intimidate parents, a way for the young person to dominate or control them.(5)

Many parents and carers find it hard to recognise or acknowledge when CPV is happening in their family. They may feel afraid or ashamed of their abusive child, humiliated that they are being assaulted or refuse to admit that their child’s actions are not normal adolescent behaviour.(5)

Caring for pharmacy staff

Don’t forget that you may also see these signs of abuse in your own staff. Pharmacy team members working during the coronavirus pandemic may be going home to family members who are worried about the risks, or resentful or unsupportive of the work they are doing. Some pharmacy staff may choose to self-isolate either in or away from their family home, which might cause conflict with relatives and escalate tensions at home.

The charity Business in the Community outlines what help is available and advises that organisations must have a clear workplace policy that ensures employees suffering domestic abuse will be supported.(7)

Signs of abuse

Aside from spotting obvious injuries, there are signs to look out for that could indicate that someone is at risk of abuse.

You may know that some of your older customers who live with extended family have had respite care or at-home services paused, and this could cause extra pressure for family carers, so ask how they are coping. Similarly, if carers are not collecting medication for their older relatives is this simply a time management issue, or might it be evidence of neglect?

Parents may seem extra frazzled or drop into conversation how challenging they are finding having their children at home all the time. Bear in mind that it could be a case of CPV, but they may be ashamed or worried to talk about it in case their children are taken away from them.(5)

Support and signposting

If customers do open up, you can start by reassuring them that it is not their fault – the person being violent is responsible for their own behaviour.

Violence, threats of violence and assault are crimes that can be reported to the police, and you should encourage anyone in fear of their own or another’s safety to call the police immediately. For those who don’t want to, you can signpost them to the National Domestic Violence Helpline on 0808 2000 247.(8)

Other useful resources include Kent & Medway Domestic Abuse Strategy Group’s Adolescent Violence to Parents booklet . For the older population, Hourglass runs a national freephone support and information helpline on 080 8808 8141.

  1. Social Care Institute for Excellence (2020) Domestic violence and abuse: Safeguarding during the COVID-19 crisis
  2. Refuge (2020) COVID-19 response
  3. Hourglass (2020) COVID-19 control measures will create a “pressure cooker” for the abuse of older people
  4. Hourglass (2020) COVID-19 response
  5. Reducing the Risk of Domestic Abuse (2020) Child on parent violence
  6. UK Parliament (2020) Formal meeting (oral evidence session): Work of the Victims' Commissioner
  7. Business in the Community (2020) Domestic abuse: a toolkit for employers
  8. Kent & Medway Domestic Abuse Strategy Group (2020) Adolescent violence to parents booklet
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